Mark Dimondstein kept Boise Weekly waiting for nearly an hour-and-a-half. He had been waylaid by a union meeting, and another, and still another–regional members of the American Postal Workers Union had gathered in Boise in mid April and they wanted some face-time with their new national union president.
By the time BW had the opportunity to sit down with 64-year-old Dimondstein, he was pretty fired up and ready to talk about the importance of the U.S. Postal Service and how it is being threatened by its top officials. He was also anxious to dispel what he said were some common myths about the embattled agency.
Did you grow up in a union household?
My mother and father were active-minded, progressive people. It was always part of the fabric of our family. I’m Jewish, so we had an anti-fascist thrust about our whole family.
How many unions have you joined in your lifetime?
Only one: the American Postal Workers Union. I’ve been a member since 1983.
Tell me about the APWU’s membership.
Approximately 200,000 employees in the clerk, motor vehicle and maintenance trades.
Why did you decide to run for your union’s presidency last fall?
I ran on a platform of needing a lot more activism. We’re at the point where the post office is under extreme attack.
And is most of that attack coming from D.C.?
It’s certainly coming from Congress; it’s definitely coming from top levels of postal management, which has been on a privatization agenda from within; and it’s coming from corporate entities who would like to get their hands on public money.
Let’s talk about that money, because it’s a common myth that tax dollars fuel the post office.
The post office works on the revenues it receives from its users and it doesn’t receive taxpayer money; it hasn’t since 1970. These people who are pushing negative, regressive postal legislation keep talking about balancing the federal budget. Well, this has nothing to do with the budget. The post office relies on users, and it’s run very well. The other myth is that the post office is in a severe financial crisis. That’s a manufactured crisis. It’s the product of a 2005 action where Congress demanded that the post office pre-fund health insurance benefits for retirees 75 years into the future. Think of that; it includes a worker that hasn’t even been born yet.
How much is in that fund?
Five-point-five billion dollars goes in every year, and there is no other public agency that faces such a crushing burden. It’s looting a public fund and going straight into the U.S. Treasury. The Postal Service has already pre-funded future retirees to the tune of $50 billion.
But we’re continuously told that the Postal Service is in financial straits.
They say we have to cut Saturday deliveries, close offices and slow down the mail. All of this has put the post office into a downward spiral, and it’s opening us up for corporate entities to get their hands on $65 billion in revenue.
How close are we to losing Saturday delivery?
We’re threatened with that possibility over and over. I can’t tell you how close we are but it’s a real threat and it’s absurd. Six-day delivery has a deep impact on our country, especially for businesses that are open six days a week plus those people who depend on the mail for their medicines. We ought to be talking about expanding services, not cutting them.
What kind of expansion are you talking about?
Staying open later, licensing, notary and banking services.
Many of us who have traveled overseas have seen many of the world’s post offices include banking.
Sixty-eight million adults in this country are stuck in what is called “alternative financial services.” But better words for it are “legal loan sharking” in payday loans and check cashing. People who get stuck in that system pay an average of $2,400 a year in interest and fees. That’s a huge social problem and the Postal Service can address that by introducing public banking services.
But the post office would still need to remain a nonprofit.
That’s correct. But the U.S. Office of Inspector General says it could bring in $9 billion of revenues into the postal system.
Talk to me about your big beef with Staples.
The post office and Staples consummated a dirty deal last year, the terms of which are secret, to put full-blown post offices inside 82 stores. And they ultimately want to put post offices into all 1,600 Staples stores. On the surface, it looks like greater opportunity for people to get their postal products in the evening; but those Staples stores are not staffed with uniformed postal employees who would be under code of ethical conduct and are able to protect the security and sanctity of the mail. Most importantly, this dirty deal transfers living-wage jobs to poverty-wage jobs.
Didn’t the Postal Service try this before?
In 1989, they tried doing the same thing with Sears, but the postal workers union stopped it. I ask you: Where would postal services be if Sears was the post office? They’re about dead now.
So, are you asking us to take our business elsewhere?
We had a national day of protest against Staples in April. We’re gaining strong support from teacher unions, and teachers buy a lot of school supplies. So, yes, we’re asking people to take their business to any of one of the other alternatives instead of Staples.
Would you be surprised if I told you that everyone I spoke with before our interview described you as an activist?
I hope that’s the case. I embrace it.